Opinion: Clown Vs Crown – By Sam Omatseye


He spins, he rolls, he turns his head, his fingers flick around his face as though fanning his sweaty brow. But he is at once unwieldy and agile, a bulky frame gasping for exercise. He is not a great dancer. The exertion is more impresario than a quest for physical wellbeing. But a dancer he is. His fame, like his frame, does not come from his mastery of the art. He is known for his cumbersome choreography than as a senator, but it is because he is a senator that people know him as a dancer.

It is part patrician pretension, part campaign stunt. He also comes from money, and it is also because he comes from money that he is a senator. His dance routines benefit ultimately from his family’s high perch. Otherwise, he would have become a mere old man, a fuddy-duddy embarrassing his ebi, his family tree in every social outing. He demeans that high society with his vulgar moves. You don’t twerk your ponderous flesh in the public glare. A family patriarch distorting their patrimony.

Shall we be grateful that a third-rate dancer entertains as though he is first-rate because he comes from what in these parts come across as first-rate money?

But what we cannot thank him for is that Senator Ademola Adeleke thinks he can dance his way into the government house. Comedy in the form of choreography is laying claim to the throne. But it is not in the tradition of African royalty for the court jester to lift his gifts as regal entitlement. No one hires a jester as heir.

By seeking to govern, he wants to capsize comedy into a sober art. But governance does not mix with vanity. A society will miss it if it tries such odd chemistry. It is for that reason that, even in Yoruba culture and history, we have not seen comedy in the palace except as comic relief. In a new Yoruba translation of Femi Osofisan’s novel Kolera Kolej, Professor Leke Adeeko raises the dual concerns in the tribe. He identifies them as ere (play) and eto (order). Order must take precedence over play, even as play takes its pride of place. That theme shines through in the novel that spoofs a community that has to regain its rhythm in an atmosphere of plague and shame in the search of a new name.

But Senator Adeleke miss play for order and order for play, which is the tragi-comic order of his campaign.

Jesters appear across the continent of Africa. They are in the palace but not of the palace. In some palaces, they play roles of oral historians, griots, cautionary poets and what Yoruba call the oriki. Some of them pulse the palace with great drum rolls.

What Adeleke dreams is to tarnish the royal yard. As senator, if we remember him as a dancer, what shall we know him for as governor in terms of legacy? He would throb the whole palace into a thespian ground. We have not heard him speak with high emotion about education, the state of infrastructure, turning Osun into a 21st century highway of tech. He does not flirt with ideas. He twerks rather with the flesh. He is a sort of infantile enthusiast seeking a shop of chocolates. If he gets there, he could collapse into a sort of diabetic emergency. Is it for nothing that Elesin in Soyinka’s play, Death and the King’s Horseman, is not able to fulfil his self-sacrifice because flesh tugs superior to spirit?

It is not here alone. We are witnessing in Great Britain how a comedian managed to get to the throne in Boris Johnson. His hair, neither buoyant nor bouffant, was a wrong crown for the post but right for a clown. He amused. He saw his job more as a sort of cynical play in which he could outplay others as the official buffoon. Last week, the crown caught up with the clown. “There are many terrible things,” wrote the Greek playwright Sophocles, “but there is nothing more terrible than man.” There is nothing more terrible than men like Johnson, who do not know the compartment between comedy and gravity. In the end, gravity prevails, and the farce unveiled.

Adeleke is trying to joust with a man like Governor Gboyega Oyetola. Oyetola has danced in public. He has sung. He does not twerk, though. Neither does he propel his flesh to public vanity. That is the difference. There is a dance and there is a dance. There is sublime dance. There is vain dance. Oyetola has done many things to place him high and above the common run of men like Adeleke. Oyetola is not in vain dance when he makes education between 18 and 21 percent of the budget, when he reclaims land belonging to schools from land grabbers, when he keeps faith with pensioners after an era of bad faith, when he introduces smart school initiatives, when he enshrines Amotekun into law, or abolishes darkness with the Light Up Osun project. Or in the field of health when vulnerable citizens get close to N500 million on a health scheme.

That is the dance we want in governance. Not the heavy sway of an aging man who is envying his own youth long gone. Was he not the one that added another spasm of laughter when he boasted he would lard the campaigns with world currencies from dollar to pounds to Euros. He would also oblige with Naira to show how much of a patriot his pocket has always been. He has no moments to ruminate about poverty and how to expand the frontiers of vision for a state of teeming population like Osun.

Osun will not flatter him the way the British did to Prime Minister Johnson. His hair was metaphor for the wrong crown. Many have mused over President Zelensky of Ukraine. He had a career as a comedian. But he did not run as a comedian. But Adeleke is a natural comedian, of the burlesque type. He cannot help it but run as a comedian. As for Boris Johnson and Zelensky, the British voted in a hero but had a comedian while the Ukrainians voted a comedian but had a hero. For Adeleke, we are having a comedian who, like a leopard’s skin, will always remain a laughingstock in spite of himself.

In Ola Rotimi’s play, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, his character Uzazakpo is a comedian who always plays moral foil to a fumbling king. We have had such as far back to the Roman Empire. But even that role of restraint is not even the type that Adeleke can play. There is no sober in his humour. He is what playwright Samuel Becket calls Risus Purus, a laugh laughing at itself in his work Endgame. If the senator were of such fibre, we might have seen it in his output as an opposition leader. He was neither leader, not a real opposition. Dance is not strong emough to oppose ideas. Rather than caution, he wiggles the waist. What a waste!

So the Osun people know the serious from the farce. Even before the election, it is obvious he will not only be crestafallen, but his will be a clownfall.



– Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation

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